S2.E7: Stepping Up for Research Dogs in Canada

with guest Lori Cohen, The Beagle Alliance

About this Episode

Lori Cohen’s life changed forever when she got her first beagle and discovered the painful truth that dogs are still used in large numbers for experimental research globally—including her home country of Canada. She was so moved to help research dogs and help change the paradigm of animal testing that she founded her own rescue organization called The Beagle Alliance. Lori is currently the executive director of The Beagle Alliance, based in Manitoba, and their mission is to give dogs and other animals used in experimental research and situations of abuse and neglect a second chance at life. Lori reveals the challenges she faces trying to rescue dogs from research laboratories in Canada, and more about their critical mission throughout North America.

Guest: Lori Cohen

Lori’s love for her beloved beagle, Trouble, sparked her advocacy against animal testing, and her passion for holistic health plays a significant role in her advocacy for non-animal use in research. Lori believes that bringing a community together through the love of animals instead of focusing on blame, is not only a compassionate stand, but is how, as humans we become as forgiving and resilient as the very animals rescued and is how we make long term change.

Transcript

ELLIE HANSEN, HOST:

You and I first met during one of your town hall meetings, and I’m so glad to be speaking with you again today because I just have so many questions. I remember something you mentioned very clearly at that meeting. You said that there are minimal, if any, regulations on animal testing in Canada. According to a 2015 estimate on animal use for scientific purposes, Canada is the third largest user of dogs in the world for experiments. China being the number one user of dogs and the US coming in second. I’m not sure if this figure still holds true, but the fact that there are barely any restrictions on animal testing in Canada is very concerning. What are your thoughts on this?

LORI COHEN, GUEST:

Well, thanks, Ellie. That’s a great question. And yes, they are concerning to us as well, which is exactly why we are here in Canada. The Beagle Alliance was founded for just this reason because I think that as Canadians, I can speak for a number of us and say that many of us weren’t aware that animal testing even happened in Canada, let alone that there was really no regulations or no federal… regulations or legislation. So it is very concerning. The latest statistics are that over 11,000 dogs were used in animal testing in Canada in 2021. And so when you think of the fact that many of these dogs could have been rehomed and released, is very concerning and the fact that there’s no legislation at this moment in place that allows for that is something that we’re trying to spread awareness about and that’s pretty much why we’re here.

HANSEN:

And the Beagle Alliance just celebrated its first anniversary. That’s pretty exciting. So congratulations on that. And as the founder and director at the Beagle Alliance, I’m wondering how exactly you came into this position? Was there a specific moment in your life that called you to do this?

LORI:

Yes, there was. My beloved Beagle walked into my life about 13 and a half years ago. I lost him last year. He was not a laboratory testing survivor, but he was a Beagle and I knew nothing about Beagles. And when I did a quick Google search on what to do with this little escape artist creature that could climb on the backs of couches and jump up on, you know. pretty much anything like a cat, I was astounded to find out that beagles were the most used breed in testing. And at that point, I hadn’t realized the horrible track record in Canada. I was just shocked that it happened, period. I think there’s a moment when you look at your dog, I think anybody looks at their animal and thinks about anything harming them. And it’s a devastating thought. And to think that this goes on daily in our country and around the world, I don’t know. It was very profound for me. So I ended up working for a larger organization in the US and that’s when I started researching the laws or lack thereof in my own country. And that’s sort of where it began in 2021. And so yes, my dog set me on that path and here we are. And every dog that we rescue, I think sort of has his name on it.

HANSEN:

So you’re a registered nonprofit and is this your full-time job now?

LORI:

It is, we are a non-profit and we’re a registered charity in Canada. And yes, it is. We have a very small team. We have two full-time people. My rescue director, Mary, who is also the founder of Cage to Couch in the U.S., which really helps with the partnership because, you know, we do work within North America. And then we have help for social media and help for our website. And that’s pretty much it. So we’re a pretty small team.

HANSEN:

Well, maybe small in number, but it takes a lot of courage to start your own organization and kind of go up against this huge pharmaceutical, biomedical world in Canada. So can I just ask where that courage comes from for you?

LORI:

Well, you know what, Ellie, some days I ask that myself. I’m not gonna lie. I wake up and I wonder, you know, is today gonna be a day that I have that courage or not? But you know, I’ll tell you, we just had a rescue recently in the last couple of weeks, and I am fostering one of the beagles, and he is still so afraid. He played for the first time yesterday with my dog Poppy, He’s still so afraid and every time I go to pet him, he shrinks away. And so there’ll be moments when he plays and I think this is amazing. And then yet I’ll go to pet him or to give him a treat and he’ll shrink away. And that’s probably where you rally the courage because the fact that a… an outgoing breed like a beagle and then a dog who really dogs are so trusting of humanity for the most part acts in that manner you realize what’s what kind of trauma they’ve suffered and so you. They are more courageous than I am, let’s say this, and if a beautiful four-legged little furry creature with a tail can be that courageous then surely I can wake up in the morning and do that as well.

HANSEN:

So how many dogs has the Beagle Alliance rescued to date?

LORI:

Well, you know, we actually counted yesterday because we wanted to know ourselves for our first year. So and of course, this is the first year being the Beagle Alliance. And so we’ve actually been in operation a little bit longer than a year, but we have successfully rescued 48 animals, not all from testing. Some have suffered neglect and abandonment. We certainly They are definitely a part of our mission. There’s some special cases out there that people reach out to us and we say, yep, we will help. But 48 right now is the number, so.

HANSEN:

And then how exactly do you obtain these dogs? Do you personally reach out to the scientific community or labs and invite them to release dogs to you? Or are you having other organizations or facilities reaching out to you?

LORI:

Great question, very detailed question. In fact, there’s so many moving parts to a laboratory rescue. Right now in Canada, we are absolutely on a mission and we are reaching out to the research facilities, which include the universities and of course private labs as well. They are not, some have responded and said that they have programs or that they adopt out to their staff. Some have outright lied and said that they don’t test on animals when I can see clearly on their website that they do. So the labs in Canada are not reaching out to us yet. We do, our goal of course is to have that change and to have them know that we’re here. We know that there’s people in laboratories who care about the animals and we just need to be out there enough so that they know that we’re here and we want the best for them and that many of them go on to live incredible lives, even after study and after research. Currently though, we are working with other organizations who reach out to us and just ask to help. And we do so, of course, because, you know, our mission is to, our mission is advocacy. And of course we wanna advocate for non-animal use in research. But our mission, we are still a rescue and, you know, dogs in laboratories, no matter where that laboratory is, need us and we want to be there.

HANSEN:

It’s nice to see that you do have a partnership within North America. So like you just said, you do work with partner rescue groups in the United States currently, and specifically the Midwest, is that correct?

LORI:

Specifically Cage to Couch in California, but because the laws are so much forward compared to Canada, that’s probably not the right way of saying it, but they’re so much more advanced and ahead of us, then it’s a lot easier no matter what’s well in several states to be able to get dogs out of laboratories. So it almost… doesn’t matter what state you’re in, if you’re willing to transport and you have volunteers to transport. And we’ve been pretty lucky that we have a great set of volunteers and people who are willing to help us. So we work mostly in California, but we’ve traveled all over.

HANSEN:

So is your hope that research facilities in Canada will kind of jump on board and make this rescue protocol more commonplace in Canada? Because what you’re saying right now is that it’s not commonplace for Canadian research facilities to release their dogs at all. Not that it’s commonplace in the United States either, honestly.

LORI:

Exactly, yeah, and I should qualify that because of course it’s more frequent in the US than Canada, but of course that does not make it frequent. But no, it is not commonplace. Over the last few years I’ve heard of universities releasing some beagles to people or possibly they’ve had an open house and people come in and they adopt. I’ve had some emails from people over the last while adopted a beagle from a university in Canada, etc. But I can tell you that it’s few and far between and nobody’s calling us so far. And that’s concerning. However, we’re very optimistic. The tides are turning in Canada. There’s been some change in legislation and there’s, you know, there’s more awareness, I guess you could say, in the last year. And so we have no doubt that this is the way it’s going to go. This is a reflection of what the Canadian people want. And I don’t think anybody in Canada, or anywhere else for that matter, wants to see animals suffer. It’s just that our citizens need to find out more about it. And that’s all it is. Once they know, we know that there’s going to be a difference made for animals in this country, and of course around the globe, hopefully.

HANSEN:

And correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Canada just pass legislation to end cosmetic animal testing and trade?

LORI:

That is correct. So yeah, so cosmetic tests. So that’s one of the changes in legislation and that’s a very positive thing. And it’s definitely something to celebrate that we won’t be testing on animals for cosmetics and we will be banning that kind of testing. And yes, that is very positive. I don’t wanna bring that down, but in the big picture, that’s a small piece of it, as you probably know that that’s… The cosmetic testing is a small piece in the animal testing world. So, you know, thankfully we have organizations like Animal Justice fighting for changes. And we have scientists in Canada who are working on alternatives to animal testing. And so I think that once we start talking about it more and these places really get their names out there. Canadians will start to realize that, yes, it happens in Canada. Yes, these animals can be placed in homes after study. And yes, there are actually alternatives to animal testing that are more effective and reliable and less expensive. And I think that’s those are the three key points that, you know, right now, I think Canadians need to be aware of.

HANSEN:

So I would love to talk about any feedback you’ve gotten from the adopters who have adopted these dogs through the Beagle Alliance. And have any of them shared their experiences with you about what they’ve gone through rehabilitating these dogs, specifically maybe the laboratory research dogs since that’s what we’re talking about here. And because you and your staff are experts in helping animals with PTSD, anxiety, and special needs. I just was hoping you could, for those listening, explain what is it like to adopt a former research dog?

LORI:

Yeah, we’ve had some great feedback and you know, where would we be without foster when you’re a rescue… where are you without fosters and adopters? We don’t have a facility in Canada. We are foster based. We do foster prior to adoption so that we can be there for the foster and work with them throughout the process and also to make sure that each dog is a match for that family.

To answer the first question, we’ve had amazing feedback in terms of having a laboratory testing survivor in a home with PTSD and anxiety. And I’ll talk about what that means in a second. But we’ve had some wonderful feedback where actually one individual said that having a dog reflect her own anxiety back to her that kind of courage and resilience actually helped her in her journey to work through her anxiety. I thought that was pretty special. You know what, I never not cry when I tell that particular story because it just goes to show you how incredible these animals are. The way in which they forgive the very species that harmed them is just such a lesson to us because we all know we hold on to things and we’re not always the greatest at forgiving. And they are just so forgiving and resilient and it’s just a lesson, they are a lesson for us all.

The second part of that question is, yeah, we like to say we’re experts. We’re definitely experts in experiencing and working with fosters throughout the journey of having a dog with these sorts of issues. We’re also, we also have done this for a while and therefore we have a lot of resources for people so we’re with them 24-7 but if we can’t answer questions and we feel they need more, we have the resources to set them up for that. We have trainers, behavior specialist, etc. so we just like to be there for them. And that’s because these dogs are not displaying the typical dog behaviors in varying degrees. So just like people, they have the fight, flight or freeze response to PTSD or to triggers. So some of their triggers include even some simple things like walking through a hallway might be frightening to them.

My little foster dog Comet right now, he hesitates at the door. He won’t go in and out of the door. He stops at the door. He has to think about it, realize he’s safe to go through that entrance and then do it. So triggers like that. Sometimes men and men’s voices are triggers to them. I think, unfortunately, I think that’s because there may be more men in the scientific community who are handling these animals and And that’s not to say that they’re being cruel all the time. That’s just to say that there’s harm being done and trauma and that voice frightens them a little bit. They do eventually get over that though. We have a lot of adopters saying that the dogs were triggered by their boyfriend or husband or son. And then, you know, months later, they’re sending us photos of them cuddling. And it’s just the most happy. They make it, right? They start to trust again.

Other triggers even just include the stepping on grass. I think everybody’s seen the video of their first time stepping on grass, but they’ve never, that’s a new sensation for them. It can be very frightening. I’m just trying to think of, even toys are scary to them. They won’t take treats. We all know if we’re anybody who’s ever experienced a hound, a beagle, they’re very food oriented. you know, and a lot of these guys have never had a treat. So they won’t even take a treat out of your hand, which is the exact opposite of what a dog, let alone a beagle would do. So we see the gamut. They’ve frozen in the middle of the road and had to be carried home by our fosters and adopters. Loud sounds, other animals sometimes. It all depends on the dog, but. you know, of course there’s a variety of things that would not normally scare a dog who is by nature a predator that scare these guys. So yeah, many things.

HANSEN:

And I’m just was curious…is there a rescue story or a rescued dog in particular that is especially memorable to you? And why?

LORI:

Oh my goodness, I’m going through all of them because they’re all just so incredible. And they are all so special. And the cool thing is that we’re like a big family and we keep in touch. And so it doesn’t matter if it’s a year ago, people will still send us stories and photos. And it’s just the most amazing, happy. thing to be a part of. You know what, I worked in corrections for over a decade. I know what PTSD is and I know that kind of inexplicable anxiety. And so I guess the story that I just, you know, shared about how this beautiful creature, and I will say to you, Ellie, this was an Envigo breeding facility survivors. So this dog came from a rough, they’re all rough, but this, as we know, was not a great situation to say the least. And the fact that this dog opened up and was able to trust and teach that adopter and her family enough courage for her to get over her own anxiety is just, I mean, how much more grateful can you be to even be a part of that?

HANSEN:

When I look at my own Envigo beagle, I can’t believe that he survived what he did, and in spite of all that, has so much love to give.

LORI:

Exactly. Exactly.

HANSEN:

I get the feeling that The Beagle Alliance is gaining momentum in the world. So would you say that this is true and can you share any exciting projects that you’re working on or maybe some of your plans for the future?

LORI:

Yeah, I mean, it’s hard for me to say if we’re gaining momentum in the world. I would love to be able to say that. It’s an honor to be, you know, speaking with you today. So maybe just having more opportunities to speak and spread awareness is exactly that momentum. We are currently, well, one thing comes to mind, we’re always working on rescues and we have a campaign on our site for people to write. you know, help us write the laboratories, private and public in Canada, to ask them to release their dogs. And so that’s exciting, and that’s been going on for a while, but currently we are working on a cruelty-free awareness program for high school students. And we’re gonna be approaching high school students first in Manitoba, which is our home base, and then throughout the country to talk to high school students about about cruelty-free living, about animal testing survivors, share some stories, really find out what they maybe know or don’t know about what cruelty-free means. They are, of course, they’re already consumers in the world, but we like to think of these young people as the new lawmakers, as the up-and-coming scientists, as the up-and-coming advocates. And so the more they know, the more power they have to make a change going forward as we pass the baton, you know, in decades to come. And so that’s really exciting for us. So that’s what we’re working on right now.

HANSEN:

And if someone wants to adopt a former research dog through the Beagle Alliance, how would they go about doing that? Do you have to be a Canadian citizen? Or what’s your application process like?

LORI:

Okay, well, no, you do not have to be a Canadian citizen. And we are a small rescue and one heck of a large country. And you know, we like to say the dogs know no borders. So of course, when you include the United States, it makes us even larger. So we do talk about transport with people, but our process includes you going to our website. So thebeaglealliance.org, you can see right on the top. foster or adopt, put in an application if you’re having any trouble with that or if you want to speak with us first, send us an email at adopt at thebeaglealliance.org. We’re happy to answer any questions prior to you putting in an application, but the application is simple. Once we get your application, we reach out, we have a conversation at some point. We obviously don’t always have dogs available. Some are already in foster and pending adoption, but we certainly have a conversation. And then we move forward with the home check and reference checks, as you can imagine. We’re pretty diligent on making sure that everybody’s on the same page when we’re talking about having a research animal in your home.

Leave a Reply

%d